Review of The Bespoke Overcoat - run ends this weekend
THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT
(A One-Act Play)
By Wolf Mankowitz
The Sturdy Beggars Group`s timely revival of Wolf Mankowitz`sadly seldom produced mini-classic boasts a strong central performance by Eric Colvin as the drunken, delusional tailor, Morry, who is wracked with guilt by the death of his friend Fender (John Dobing).
The play is set in London`s East End in the 1950`s and the Group`s production captures the period with its restlessness and `trad` jazz that heralds specialization, mass production and the death of the artisan craftsman.
Based on the ground-breaking Russian short story, Shinel, by Nikilai Gogol, it tells the tale of two Jewish workers, Morry – a tailor – and Fender – a warehouse clerk. Fender, suffering from acute bronchitis, cannot afford one of the sheepskin overcoats which are retailed by his overpowering boss, Ranting (a creepy performance by Jack Courtney).
Fender tries to persuade Morry to repair his threadbare coat; however, Morry convinces his friend that the coat is irreparable and that he will, instead, make him a bespoke overcoat at cost price! Morry – once a top Savile Row tailor – is now reduced to scraping a living in a seedy repair shop and is desperate for a proper assignment and commission.
The author`s marxist concept of urban alienation is sweetly juxtaposed to gentle Jewish humour and cockney banter: “A dozen flying jackets? – With such jackets you can fly” says Fender, and Ranting`s retort to a passenger on the Central Line “I`ll say its expensive – you don`t think I`d wear one of my own overcoats” (a la Gerald Ratner, the allegedly disgraced entrepreneur.
The tale is largely told in flashback, through Fender`s ghost – who is permanently in the head of Morry – guilt-ridden that his heavy drinking delayed the making of the overcoat and helped bring on the old man`s death?
John Dobing`s performance as Fender`s ghost is nicely underplayed and Eddie (Ranting`s new young clerk) is deliciously subversive – a smashing cameo by Mark Hyer.
Mankowitz came from the East End of London and his father, Solomon, was a Russian émigré. The author went on to write `A Kid for Two Farthings` which was made into a film and directed by Sir Carol Reed. He wrote many film scripts and was an expert on English pottery and porcelain. Like his `Bespoke Overcoat` a real one-off.
November 28, 2007